Born: June 22, 1941
African American television and radio journalist
Award-winning American journalist Ed Bradley remains best-known for his work on the weekly news program 60 Minutes.
Edward R. Bradley was born on June 22, 1941. His parents separated soon after he was born. His father moved to Detroit, Michigan, where he owned a vending-machine business and a restaurant. Bradley lived with his mother in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and spent part of each summer with his father. His parents worked very hard. Often they held two jobs that kept them busy twenty hours a day. Even so, they never let him think he could not make a better life for himself. They told him he could be anything he wanted to be and he believed it.
Bradley received a bachelor's degree in education from Cheyney State College in Cheyney, Pennsylvania, in 1964. To make extra money during his college years, he delivered telephone books and gave fellow students rides at fifty cents a trip. After graduating from college he taught sixth grade. He got a chance to work in radio as a disc jockey and news reporter for WDAS-FM radio in Philadelphia, but he was not paid for his work.
Bradley covered his first news story when rioting broke out in north Philadelphia. WDAS found itself short-staffed (without enough people). Bradley went to the station and got a tape recorder and an engineer (a technical person). He said, "For the next 48 hours, without sleep, I covered the riots.… I was getting these great scoops [first interviews].… And that kind of hooked me on the idea of doing live stuff, going out and covering the news."
Bradley proved himself to be a capable newsman. The station began to pay him a small salary—$1.25 an hour. From there he moved on to WCBS radio, an all-news station, in New York City. He worked there for three and a half years. Then he became bored with his work. He quit and decided to move to Paris, France. Bradley enjoyed the cultural life of Paris. He thought he would write novels and poetry until he ran out of money. Then he took the only job he could find. He joined CBS again as a stringer (an occasional writer) in their Paris office in 1971. Like all stringers, he was only paid for the stories that were accepted.
Bradley wanted to get back into the real news business. He was transferred to the Saigon, Vietnam, office of CBS news in Southeast Asia to cover the Vietnam War (1955–75; a war in which North Vietnam fought against U.S.-backed South Vietnam). While there he was wounded in an attack and eventually was sent back to the United States.
After other assignments Bradley covered Jimmy Carter (1924–) in his 1976 campaign for the presidency. After the election CBS assigned him to its Washington, D.C., office where he became the first African American to be a White House correspondent (reporter). Even though it was a very important position, Bradley hated it. It required him to be in a small office, doing the same things day after day. He wanted action.
From that time until 1981, Bradley also served as the anchor (main newscaster) for the CBS Sunday Night News and also as principal correspondent for CBS Reports. In 1981 he replaced Dan Rather (1931–) as a correspondent for the weekly news program 60 Minutes.
Bradley's work has won him many Emmy Awards (awards for excellence in television) for broadcast journalism as well as other awards for his achievements. A correspondent for CBS's 60 Minutes since 1981, Bradley has become one of the most visible African Americans on network television news.
Though Bradley resists being pigeonholed (narrowly described) as an African American reporter and is said to hate covering African American stories, some of his finest moments with CBS occurred when he covered racial issues. "Murder—Teen-age Style" is one example. His report "Blacks in America: With All Deliberate Speed" was a look at race relations in the United States. He won an Emmy and other awards for the program. The documentary contrasted the status of African Americans in Mississippi and in Philadelphia between 1954 and 1979.
CBS sent Bradley to report on the Vietnamese refugees known as "boat people." "The Boat People" aired in 1979, earning Bradley another Emmy and several other awards. It was also shown on 60 Minutes in an edited form. Bradley had been considered for 60 Minutes in the late 1970s, but reporter Harry Reasoner was chosen instead. Then, when Dan Rather left the news program to take over Walter Cronkite's (1916–) position as anchor of the CBS Evening News, Bradley was asked to join the program.
Bradley's presence changed the chemistry (the way things work) of 60 Minutes, with his sensitive, compassionate approach to interviewing. Dan Rather had been more aggressive. Coworkers and critics alike have pointed out Bradley's ability to establish a rapport (relationship) with his subjects. Mike Wallace, a cohost on 60 Minutes, remarked that Bradley's approach is "instinctive—he has no idea how he does it." Bradley himself resists analyzing his style. He said in an interview, "I'd rather not think about it and just go out and do it, and it will come naturally." When Bradley interviewed singer Lena Horne (1917–) in December 1981, TV Guide described the journalist's work as "a textbook example of what a great television interview can be." Bradley alternated Horne's performances with interview segments in which Horne discussed her personal and professional life. Bradley created an intimate (personal) portrait of the singer. Bradley said "it told a lot about the way women are treated, a lot of things about the way blacks are treated. It told a lot of things about interracial marriages, difficulties in the film and entertainment industries and how those things have changed and not changed." Bradley has said that he feels "Lena" is among his best work. "Lena" won Bradley his first Emmy as a member of the 60 Minutes team.
Not all of Bradley's interviews have been friendly ones. He has had many unpleasant interviews because he refuses to back down from unpleasant issues. In a 1995 TV Guide viewers poll of active CBS journalists, Bradley was the highest scorer in seven out of eight categories.
Bradley's need for adventure has not lessened and he still travels often. Bradley summed up his attitude about his career in an interview with People magazine in 1983. He said, "The bottom line of this job is fun. And when it stops being fun, then I'll stop doing it." Bradley marked his twenty-first season with 60 Minutes during the 2000–2001 season. He continues to produce the news stories that made him famous.
Hewitt, Don. Minute by Minute. New York: Random House, 1985.
Madsen, Axel. 60 Minutes: The Power and the Politics of America's Most Popular News Show. New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1984.